09 July 2007

Not Malice, But Pause

Sometimes, I think it'd be a worthwhile project to compile a list-- a volume perhaps?-- of lamentable, and eventually disproven, assessments in history. It's an idea some of us have casually, as when we first come across Neville ("Peace In Our Time") Chamberlain or first read Tolstoy's implausibly inane assaults upon King Lear. Sometimes, though, it's curious how some people, people normally known for astute and prescient observation, could ever get things so wrong. Thought first came to mind some time ago, when reading through Philip Larkin's All What Jazz and realizing how badly he'd judged the then-young talent named Aretha Franklin; and then again when rereading Kenneth Tynan, when he said that Alec Guinness would "illumine many a blind alley of subtlety, but blaze no trails." Tynan hadn't seen the Peter Sellers effect yet, much less the Jerry Lewis or Dustin Hoffman ones, and Larkin would probably shrink to see the influence of Ms Franklin (aka, "The Queen of Soul"). One then remembers how many publishers rejected A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and how the Hearsties so savagely railed against Citizen Kane. Not all such idiocies occur contemporaneously and can be corrected with the sleight of "20/20 hindsight." Think of Elvis Costello's-- probably drunken-- dismissal of James Brown as "a jive-ass nigger" and Ray Charles as "a jive-ass, ignorant nigger." (Costello apologized shortly later, but he still regrets it, deeply, and not just because of the vileness of the language.) One could go on and on, so-- mercifully for you-- I won't. But it's a tempting prospect: Greatest Boners By Our Ostensibly Greatest Figures. It's an idea I entertain not with malice, but with pause. We need always to remember that even the smartest, sharpest and most profoundly encyclopedic among us can drop the ball; and while to some that might seem disillusioning, to me it's reassuring. After all, no one truly grasped Blake's genius in his lifetime, or van Gogh's. Sometimes our greatest minds can be the wrongest, something both Einstein and Newton acknowledged. It's not always the clamouring fools, or the rancorous or unprescient. It's all of us-- or, in most cases, most of us. Now pause on that for a while.

6 comments:

Jenny said...

Still alive, my good doctor, still alive! Or barely just. I'll be catching up over the next few days! Good to know you are still alive, as well! Cheers!

Pious Labours said...

Sounds like a very interesting and practicable idea, J. I wouldn't mind being a part of it.

nic said...

great post

sylvia said...

I'd buy that book.

Dr J said...

But lo, the effort it would require.... Maybe I should let PL do all the leg work. ;-)

Thanks nic, good to see you back.

j said...

C'mon, people have been known to praise stock markets just days before they go kaputt, instant karma?

didn't know you were on the brink of non-existence , glad you're alive!

Blog Archive